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Roger Bower papers

 Collection 0021-MMC-LAB

Roger Bower (1903-1979) was active in broadcasting from 1925 to 1974. He joined radio station WOR in New York in 1928 and became a combination producer, director, actor, announcer, and sound effects engineer. During that time, WOR became the flagship station of the Mutual radio network, and Bower directed many prominent programs, including It Pays to be Ignorant, and Can You Top This? In the early 1930s, Bower announced the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he continued to describe for many years. He gave one of the first (closed circuit) television demonstrations in 1933, in a Macy's department store window. Bower remained with WOR for 24 years, until the station was sold in 1952.

In later years, he assisted in developing television and radio networks in Cairo, Damascus, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Iran while working for (in order) the State Department, then NBC International, and, finally, the International Executive Service Corporation of New York City.

This collection primarily documents Bower's career at radio station WOR in New York City.


  • 1927-1979 and undated
  • Majority of material found within circa 1940-1960

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


95 Tape Reels : 7" audio reels

1 Tape Reels : 5" audio reel

5 Sound Cassettes : audio cassettes

2.75 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Roger Bower papers contains materials from 1927 through 1979. The bulk dates of the materials are from the 1940s and 1960s. The collection consists of correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, programs and invitations, photographs, books, audio recordings, scrapbooks, promotional material, a musical script and score and a certificate in Vietnamese.

Materials in this collection are particularly strong in material pertaining to Station WOR. The clippings reveal the wide number and variety of programs Bower was involved with. Can You Top This? is especially well documented, with clippings of cast interviews, photographs, audio recordings, and a cartoon. The collection also documents Bower's overseas work, containing many of his Variety articles, and photographs and newspaper clippings from Nigeria.

Because Bower traveled constantly, especially in later years, little of his correspondence was saved. The collection also lacks materials documenting his early life, before his association with station WMCA in 1927.


Roger Bower was born on January 8, 1903, in New York City. He attended the City College of New York and New York University. But he was more interested in entertainment than education; he aspired to be an actor, performing in vaudeville, minstrel and road shows. Bower first became associated with radio in 1927, when he was hired as an announcer for radio station WMCA in New York. After WMCA, he worked briefly as the station manager for an independent station in Newark, N. J., which was actually an elaborate front for a bootlegger.

Bower joined radio station WOR in New York in 1928, and worked there for 24 years; during that time, he also produced and directed programs for other stations, including CBS and NBC. WOR is known in the broadcasting industry as a "heritage" station, or a pioneer in the development of American broadcasting. WOR was first heard from Bamberger's Department Store in 1922. The WOR Network served more than 350 stations in the United States and Canada with programming produced by WOR in New York City; its programs featured such famous personalities as Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, and Henry Morgan. WOR was also one of the original member stations in the Mutual Broadcasting System.

At WOR Bower produced, directed, acted, and created sound effects. Periodically, he took his programs out of the studio to live audiences, playing to full theaters at Asbury Park, N. J., and elsewhere. During his years at WOR, Bower directed several thousand radio and television programs, including: You Can't Take It With You, The Treasure Hour of Song, Famous First Facts, Name Your Poison, Say It With Words, Mystery Sketches, Music Pastels, and Court of Literary Justice.

Bower's range of programs was practically unlimited. He did sports casting, including the Army-Navy games and the Rose Bowl; through this, he met Knute Rockne, and sports announcer Ted Husing. He directed quiz shows, both comedic and straight, including Twenty Questions. Mystery and detective programs were also among his credits, including The Crime Club. Bower directed The Witch's Tale, first heard in 1928, one of the earliest radio horror programs; he also provided sound effects and the "voice" of Satan, the black cat. His Bamberger Symphony was one of the first symphony programs on the radio. He also directed operas and popular music programs, working with Rudy Vallee, the Dorsey brothers, and Benny Goodman, among others.

Bower's first major program was Main Street Sketches, first heard circa 1925. It was a weekly, hour-long drama of small town life set in "Titusville;" Bower produced and directed, and also played the character Fleck Murphy. Around the same time, he served as the director, emcee and sound effects man for the popular Market and Halsey Street Playhouse, a variety theatre show of the 1920s.

He directed It Pays To Be Ignorant, a comedy panel program first heard in 1942, which parodied the popular quiz programs of the time. Another famous comedy of Bower's was Stop Me If You've Heard This One, with Cal Tinny, Lew Lehr, and Morey Amsterdam, first heard in 1947. He directed, and also served as emcee, reading listeners' jokes.

Bower's most famous credit was the comedy panel program Can You Top This?, with "Senator" Ed Ford, Joe Laurie, Jr., Harry Hershfield, and Peter Donald, first heard in 1940. Bower directed and produced this program, and also served as moderator and scorekeeper for five years. Listeners submitted jokes to the show, and the best ones were read to the panel by Donald. The panelists then tried to"top" the joke, with one of their own on the same subject. A "laugh meter" hooked to a microphone gauged audience response to the jokes, determining the winners.

In 1936, Bower married Jean Stewart, who was also active in radio. She worked for station WINS in New York, was vice president of the Sutton News Service, and was also a correspondent for various newspapers, including the Boston Globe, the Boston Transcript, and the Lakeville (Conn.) Journal. The couple later had three children: Roger, Wendy and Nancy.

In the early 1930s, Bower announced the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he continued to describe for many years. He gave the first (closed circuit) television demonstration of station WOR in 1933, in a Macy's department store window. He also directed the musical entertainment feature during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday celebrations at the Waldorf-Astoria from 1941 to 1944.

After leaving WOR, Bower served as operations director for station WROW in Albany, N. Y., in 1954. He moved to station WKIX in Raleigh, N. C., in 1956, as general manager. Later, he worked for Welch, Mott and Morgan, broadcast attorneys based in Washington, D.C. He wrote chapters on radio and television for textbooks and encyclopedias, including The Children's Encyclopedia (New York: A. Barnes). He also co-wrote a joke book with Lew Lehr and Cal Tinney, Stop Me If You've Heard This One, based on their radio program.

In 1960, the State Department sent Bower to the United Arab Republic for a year, to set up television stations in Cairo, Egypt, and Damascus, Syria. While overseas, Bower was an intermittent correspondent for Variety magazine, a position he also held during his subsequent trips abroad.

Shortly after his return from this mission in 1961, NBC International asked him to assist in the development of Nigerian television and radio. Bower agreed, and he and his wife Jean Bower stayed in Lagos, Nigeria for six years. Bower served as managing director of the Nigerian Television Service from 1962 until he left the country in 1967. While in Nigeria, Bower received the Pope's Medal of Honor for his work, and was also made the vice president of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce.

Immediately after the end of this assignment in 1967, NBC International sent Bower to Saigon, Vietnam, where he stayed for two years, working with the television and radio services. Jean Bower lived in Bangkok, Thailand, because of safety concerns, visiting him periodically. While he was there, Bower received the Psychological Warfare Medal of Honor from the South Vietnamese government.

In 1974, the International Executive Service Corporation of New York City arranged for Bower to help the Iranian government evaluate its television and radio programming. He spent approximately three months assessing the National Iranian Radio-Television System.

During his career, Bower received many accolades. New York radio columnists voted him Best Announcer for two years (1930-1932). He was made an honorary member of Rho Tau Sigma, a professional fraternity, for his work in collegiate broadcasting. He was a member of the Lamb's Club, one of the oldest theatrical clubs in the world, and contributor to their newsletter, The Lamb's Script. Bower was also the first president of the American Guild of Radio Announcers and Producers, and a past director of the Radio and Television Director's Guild.

Roger Bower died on May 17, 1979, in Sharon, Connecticut.


The collection is organized as six series:

Series 1
Series 2
Written Matter
Series 3
Miscellaneous Items
Series 4
Series 5
Series 6
Oversized Clippings and Magazines

Custodial History

The Roger Bower papers were donated to the Library of American Broadcasting, in May 1981, by Jean Stewart Bower, wife of the late Roger Bower. The collection was received by the University of Maryland Libraries as part of the transfer of the holdings of the Library of American Broadcasting to the Libraries in 1994.

Related Material

The Library of American Broadcasting owns several audio reels of Can You Top This? (au rl orig 1102-1192), which may be of interest to researchers. It also possesses an interview with Bower by Phil Callen on Talk of the Towns, January 22, 1974, on WMMW Meriden, CT (au rl orig 1482).

Separated Materials

Several books on the radio and television industry accompanied the Bower collection. They have been housed with the Library of American Broadcasting's main book collection, and are catalogued in the University of Maryland's library system. Annotations found throughout the collection were largely made by Jean Stewart Bower; her initials, J. S. B., may sometimes be found on items.

Processing Information

This collection has been moderately processed. The processing archivist arranged files into separate series, however, there is overlap among the series. Materials have been arranged by format, topic, and date. Original folders were replaced with acid-free folders and folders were assigned labels. Photographs and audio materials were separated from print materials. Oversize items were placed in a separate box. The entire collection was re-boxed. Clippings and magazines were rehoused with the rest of the oversize and print materials.

Guide to the Roger Bower papers
Processed by Deborah Tomaras, March 2000.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2009-04-29: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Karen E. King, April 2009
  • 2009-05-13: EAD revised by Karen E. King, May 2009
  • 2009-07-14: EAD revised by Karen E. King, July 2009
  • 2018-01-09: Minor updates and revisions made post ArchivesSpace migration by Joanne Archer
  • 2018-02-11: Audio inventory added, audio series data updated; collection-level use, access, and processing notes updated by Jen Wachtel.
  • 2021-10-01: Jim Baxter re-wrote the collection abstract; Sam O’Donnell updated gendered language.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742